Ask Matt: Emmys, Hate-Watching, the Happy Endings Divide, Ziva's Exit
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Question: So once again, the Emmy nominations are out, and I'm sure that you are being inundated with mail questioning the sanity of the nominations. I, too, had "my shows" that I wanted nominated (The Good Wife, The Americans, The Middle, New Girl, and Michael Cudlitz and Gerald McRaney on Southland). But while I can nitpick here and there, I suppose that I'm mostly thankful that there is so much outstanding television out there that five, six and even seven nominations in a category isn't enough to recognize all the great viewing that's available. — Erin
Matt Roush: That's the spirit — a rare spirit of accentuating the positive where the Emmys are concerned. And while I agree that many of the oh-so-many repeat candidates are deserving, as they have been year after year, and the field in so many categories is so crowded there's no way to acknowledge everyone, it's regrettable that the Emmy voters seemingly don't even try to spread the wealth and celebrate work that was especially memorable in a particular year. Example: Regarding Cudlitz and McRaney, not to mention Regina King, would it have killed the voters to acknowledge Southland in its remarkable final tour of duty? And Monica Potter's outstanding work on Parenthood last season was so singular and moving that it really does seem a lost opportunity to nominate, if not reward, such an achievement. I could go on, as I did on the day on nominations, but this is the viewers' forum, so let it rip.
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Question: I just read the Emmy list for this year. When, oh when, will they get out of their humdrum attitudes with the nominations? I have been impatiently waiting for Timothy Olyphant and Justified, Sons of Anarchy and Charlie Hunnam, Suits and Gabriel Macht, more of Boardwalk Empire and Steve Buscemi. The above-mentioned actors MAKE those shows, and deserve a nomination. Oh, and Jonny Lee Miller for Elementary, Mark Harmon for NCIS, and I could go on and on. Please help me to understand the TV Academy's rationalization of the nomination process, because I am totally disgusted with it as it now stands. — Jan
Matt Roush: One thing to keep in mind, so as not to drive yourself crazy, is that the TV Academy loves what it loves, year after year, and it can seem a fairly closed circle until something new like Homeland breaks through — or, this year, Netflix with House of Cards, which helped shut out Boardwalk (no argument from my corner on that one). To be fair, Olyphant did score a best-actor nomination two years ago, but FX (with the aggravating exception of American Horror Story: Asylum — THE MINISERIES) seems especially challenged in getting respect in the drama categories. And that becomes an exponentially uphill climb for anyone working in more mainstream outlets like CBS, USA and TNT (now that The Closer is history). Setting aside Downton Abbey, the feel-good flavor of the moment (not hard to see why), the drama Emmys are much more likely these days to reward tougher-minded serialized dramas that tend to emphasize the darker side of human nature on prestige channels like HBO, Showtime and AMC. But really, wouldn't Jonny Lee Miller's quirky take on Sherlock have been a refreshing addition to that category this year?
Question: I know you will be bombarded with messages from people complaining about their favorites not getting nominated or wanting to share their excitement if their favorites did get nominated. I could go there (I've got lots to complain about and lots to be thrilled about — YAY Vera Farmiga!), but one thing was SO incredibly outrageous to me (and NO, it's not the fact that American Horror Story cheats by getting into the miniseries category, although that does not sit well) that I just had to get your opinion on it. Can you explain to me how an actor who is listed in the opening credits of a show as one of the stars (Robert Morse on Mad Men) can possibly be nominated as a "Guest Actor" on the show? Yes, I know he isn't in every episode, but he is still listed in the main credits as a star of the show! I mean, exactly how far are they going to bend the rules to accommodate shows and actors? It's getting to be an utter and complete farce! Thanks for any insight you can shed on this matter. — Beverly
Matt Roush: Parsing the Emmy rules is like wading into the labyrinth of a Dan Brown novel, and I had to consult a colleague to make sure I got this one right, but according to the rulebook: "Comedy/Drama series guest performers with 'guest star' billing, or who are contracted as such, are eligible in the guest performer categories without regard to the number of episodes he/she appeared in." So even if someone as critical to the core of Mad Men as Morse's character is billed as a guest star, he's a guest star and can be nominated as such. (I was also thrown a few years back when John Lithgow was able to win a guest Emmy for his season of Dexter when by all logic he should have been considered a supporting player if not second lead for that year. But it was a special guest role, and by being in that category, he was ensured a win.) On the bright side, Harry Hamlin's inclusion in the guest category for his startlingly enjoyable and droll performance as Jim Cutler in Mad Men was among the year's happier surprises.
Question: I would like to give you a cyber hug for including Vera Farmiga in the Lead Actress category in your Dream Emmy Ballot. She should win every award for those episodes of Bates Motel right before and after Norma gets arrested! I will be so happy if she gets nominated. OHMYGOD I will die if she wins! Let's hope the Emmy gods and goddesses read your list. — Felicia
Matt Roush: I share your glee that Farmiga got a well-deserved nomination. She's a blast. I just wish our (and others') drum-beating for Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany had paid off as well. That would have been a shining moment for the Emmys, to acknowledge a shining new talent from out of nowhere who delivered one of the most amazing and unexpected tour de force performances in ages. (I bet if Maslany had scored a nomination, the voters exposed to her work would have given her the win.) But such omissions expose the flaw in the Emmy process: The membership just doesn't watch enough TV to make the most informed choices.
Question: I hate the term "hate-watching" and how the media use it. Sometimes (and sometimes very often) they use it very generally, like last year apparently practically "everyone" hate-watched The Newsroom, and for that reason I didn't watch it when it first aired. But then a friend gave me the Blu-Ray and I watched the whole season in a weekend — and I absolutely loved it. So did my family. So did my friends. Did it have issues? Yes. The whole Maggie-Jim-Don drama was unbearable to watch at times, and it was a little preachy — but the Aaron Sorkin dialogue combined with the performances by these amazing actors and actresses (Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda and so on) is mesmerizing when it works.
My point is: I, my family, my friends (and their friends) don't really have the time (or the interest) to watch something we don't like, much less hate — and judging by the ratings the season premiere got, not many viewers left between seasons — so maybe the term "hate-watching" should just be reserved for the discontent group that tweets about how they use their own free time doing something they hate, and then bitch about how much they hated it, when in fact they could just watch something they would enjoy. First: it's not logical (do they know they support something they hate by adding to the ratings?). Second: it's not like there aren't enough options out there. Anyroads: Judging by the ratings for the season premiere it would seem most of the audience liked what they saw last year. What do you think about the term "hate-watching?" — Daniel
Matt Roush: It's a very cynical and mostly critically useless exercise, a reflection of this Age of Snark — which Newsroom's Will McAvoy addresses in next Sunday's episode, in a perhaps too self-aware and self-serving diatribe: "Snark is the idiot's version of wit and we're being polluted by it." He has a point, but he (and Sorkin) are also asking for it by being so high-minded when so much of the rest of the show can invite derision: the Maggie-Jim-Don scenario in particular, which gets even worse when it tries to entwine world tragedy and political commentary into its screwball rom-com. The Newsroom is an uneven but occasionally brilliant (and mostly terrifically acted) show that polarizes the audience, when even within a single hour there are moments of greatness followed by moments of such grating pomposity or silliness that it can give the observer whiplash — inciting "hate-watching," an unfortunate side effect of the Internet's judge-every-episode mentality, which can get in the way of seeing the big picture of the actual appeal of a show like The Newsroom (or, to use another example of an even more creatively troubled but sometimes fabulous show, Smash, which eventually felt like beating a dead show horse). It's a critic's right (and job) to weigh in honestly when a show disappoints them, but dwelling on the "hate" in "hate-watching" over time begins to feel as self-indulgent as the worst excesses or failures of the show(s) they're writing about.
Question: With the demise of Happy Endings, I've been trying to think of any show in recent memory that had such polarized views among critics. It seems like some loathed the show and others thought it was the best comedy on the air last year. While I fall in the middle — leaning to the negative, because I didn't care about the characters at all, but I did find some of the jokes funny — I don't recall any other show that's been so polarizing. There are a lot of shows where some critics loved them while others were less enthusiastic, but nothing where it was clearly a love it or hate it kind of situation (with little middle ground). I know each critic has their own tastes, so they're not all going to agree, but do you know of other examples where the critics were this polarized? And why do you think the critical views were so divergent for Happy Endings other than just that different people have different tastes?
On a slightly related note, it seems to me that I, and others who watch the show, felt like Modern Family had a very weak season this year, but a lot of the critics still call it one of the best comedies on TV. Other than Haley and Alex, it seems like there was no real growth in the characters (Cam and Claire both got jobs, but that didn't have too much impact on them) and they seem to be becoming stuck in their characters' shtick. There were definitely funny episodes, but it felt like far too many of them weren't up to the level of the first few seasons. Do you feel the show had a weak year? Or could it just be that the show is so good that it only seems like it's weaker because it's still basically the same (to be fair, a mediocre Modern Family is still better than most other shows' best episodes)? — Scott
Matt Roush: Critics disagree all the time — I tend not to dwell on it, because how interesting would it be if we were all always on the same page? — but the Happy Endings divide may have been intensified by the way ABC treated it, inspiring its champions to go a bit overboard in treating it like a neglected modern classic. (For the record, my take on the show is pretty much the same as Scott's: As funny as the jokes could often be, for me the characters felt more like joke machines than actual human beings, and with the exception of Max and Penny, the ensemble left me cold. That said, I was surprised ABC didn't at least keep it on the midseason back burner, and when the network dropped it, I was even more surprised when no one stepped up to add a show with this kind of buzz, even if I wasn't among those buzzing, to its roster.)
Regarding Modern Family: It's worth remembering that I put The Middle on my Top 10 list last year instead of Modern, because I felt The Middle had become the most relevant — in its reflection of economic/job woes — as well as funniest family comedy on TV. And while I'm rooting for The Big Bang Theory to win in comedy this year — a show that has expanded its world of characters, evolving amid enormous success — though I'd also be more than fine with Louie or even Veep, I won't be surprised if/when Modern Family makes it four in a row at the Emmys. (Emmy nerd observation: Modern received no writing nominations this year, which could be seen as indicative of a possible upset.) It may not be breaking much new ground anymore, comedically or emotionally, but Modern Family does what it does awfully well and is "must see" for millions of fans, and the industry still respects it, so much so that you're about to see a flurry of new family-oriented network sitcoms this fall. It's easy to take a show like this for granted once it and we settle into a groove, but underestimate it at your peril.
Question: I've been a huge fan of Person of Interest since it premiered, but in the back half of Season 2 it seemed to lose some of its focus. For S3 they've added Sarah Shahi as a regular, even though a lot of fans weren't happy with Samantha Shaw's introduction to the show. Kevin Chapman didn't appear in the last two episodes of S2, and now we're hearing that Shahi will be on the POI Comic-Con panel, but Taraji P. Henson won't be. Is this an indication of things to come? Are the beloved Core Four being broken up for good? — Lyra
Matt Roush: I wouldn't say Person of Interest has lost its focus as much as it's refocusing and growing its world of characters to stay viable and not grow stale and predictable. Besides, no one will ever be able to convince me that adding the dynamic Sarah Shahi to a show is anything but a plus, and Shaw is one of her best roles yet. (Same goes for Amy Acker as Root, who was announced at Comic-Con as a new series regular as well.) Henson reportedly had a scheduling conflict with the Comic-Con panel, but Chapman appeared, so while the cops won't be the only characters interacting regularly with Reese and Finch, they're not going away. My advice: Let the show evolve, and hang on for the ride. Let's just hope it survives the move to Tuesdays at 10/9c, traditionally one of CBS' most problematic time periods.
Question: I just finished watching last week's (July 14) episode of The Killing and I think it's only fair, after your most recent column mentioning how darkly the show is filmed, that you mention how beautifully shot this episode was! The scenes on the pier with Linden and Pastor Mike, the car parked in the underground parking garage with the water reflecting on the wall, Bullet in the diner, and, yes, sun, what more could you want? I'm really enjoying this season and was a fan of the previous two as well, as it never really bothered me the killer wasn't revealed at the end of season 1. What are the chances for another season? I know it was pulled from the brink for this season and was wondering if you had some thoughts on its chances for renewal? — Dee
Matt Roush: Points taken. It was one of the show's best episodes in a creatively resurgent season, and I hear it just keeps getting better. But this just in from Anne, another frustrated fan: "Are we the only ones who are missing half of the dialogue on The Killing? The script is wonderful, the actors superb, but they underplay so much that a good portion of their dialogue is very hard to hear because of the mumbling. No, I am not deaf! Can someone tell the director(s) to remind the actors to project a bit more? Love the series, and we hate missing a single word. As a former actress and a current playwright, I really pay particular attention to the problem." From Matt: I'm sure there's a method (acting) to their muttering, but this is hardly the only show being accused of this. Although here it's more a function of character than being drowned out by the soundtrack (easily the #1 complaint in my mailbag on any given week).
Question: I was soooo sad to hear Cote de Pablo is leaving NCIS. She has been so cute the way she interacts with Michael (Tony) and of course everyone else on the show. I will definitely miss her cute smile on the show. I just hope they don't kill her off like they did Sasha Alexander (Kate). I hope they will leave the door open if she decides to come back in the future. A faithful fan of NCIS forever. — Cindy
Matt Roush: Again a popular topic in the e-mailbag this week. I would bet, especially in light of the way the Kate and Jenny characters left the show — violently — that even if Ziva's exit isn't peaceful, it will at least come with an open-door policy. The most popular suggestion among those writing in this week is for her to return to Israel as the new head of Mossad or some such position. (Sounds like a good idea to me.) Not everyone is so accepting, though.
Question: I've pretty much decided I'm done with NCIS because I get the feeling that Cote was not offered a good contract. I love this show, but I almost quit watching after they killed off Kate (Sasha Alexander) and I really can't stand their (NCIS producers) way of killing off characters. Tell me that it is really true that Cote just wants to do other things and I will watch. Be truthful, because I have decided not to watch anything of this show (reruns included) ever again if they kill off Ziva and if this is just a money thing. — Robert
Matt Roush: I've seen at least one unconfirmed report that money had something to do with it — when a show is this successful for this long, contract negotiations never get easier — but by all accounts, the decision was hers, and until she gives an interview to elaborate on her reasons, we should at least be appreciative that the parting is amicable enough that she'll stick around to play out her storyline. It seems a pretty universal opinion (at least in my mailbag) that she had better not be killed off, which would be a huge turn-off to fans. And finally ...
Question: I have been a fan of NCIS since it began and I am a little sad that Cote de Pablo has decided to move on from the show, and I wish her continued success with her career. As a fan, the only possible ending the producers should consider is to have Ziva end her career as an NCIS agent and replace her father as director of Mossad. I seriously hope they do not "kill" her character off! My questions/comments to you: 1. Why can't CBS just replace Cote with another actress? Ziva could go undercover, be presumed "dead," then have another actress replace her, Ziva is so important to Team Gibbs. 2. Will we ever see Tony and Ziva share a kiss that we as viewers have waited to see? — DeDe
Matt Roush: The kiss I would hope is a given. As for recasting the role: I can think of no scenario that would be more likely to upset fans and disrespect the actor than having her appear so replaceable that they could just bring someone else in to play Ziva. (After what, an explosion forcing complete reconstructive surgery? This isn't NCIS: Dynasty.) I would be surprised if this idea had even been floated. Better to bring a new female character on board, acknowledging the fact that Ziva's will be some mighty big boots to fill.
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